Heirloom Rice: Red and Black

20140906_193605On two separate occasions lately I’ve come across Lotus Foods heirloom rice and picked some up to try out. The first I tried was the Bhutan Red Rice and then the Forbidden Rice, which is a black rice.  The red rice, in addition to being an heirloom variety is also organic, while the black rice is grown with a water saving method. I tested them both together and separately. If you’re looking for a recipe for black rice, check out my fellow blogger Nancy’s Black Rice Salad. I resisted the temptation to do much with the rice the first time I made it because I wanted to evaluate the flavor and texture before fancying it up.

I found both the Bhutan Red and black Forbidden rice at a specialty store last fall and had to give them a try. In general I like heirloom varieties of vegetables, but I’m not sure I’ve had an heirloom grain before! The rice kernals of the Bhutan Red rice are plump and retain their color moderately well in cooking. I cooked it on the stove, more or less according to package instructions. (I had to cook a bit longer because I’ve got a new set of cookware I’m getting used to and had to adjust the temp during cooking.)

I like the way both the red and black rices look. For that alone you might snag a bag if you see it in a store. The unusual look dresses up the meal more than plain ol’ white rice, or even brown rice. The Forbidden Black rice was looked even more spectacular than the red!

I did not rinse the Bhutan Red rice before cooking and the grains were remarkably less sticky than white rice. In fact I had a bit more trouble with the chopsticks because the rice did not clump the way I’m used to. 😉


The flavor, however, was unremarkable. I had expected a different heartier flavor, but it didn’t have a distinctive flavor, though it did not taste like white rice. I added no seasonings, but I think this rice would be a good one for additions of seasoning and vegetables, providing something of a blank canvas for flavors.

Forbidden (black) Rice

The Forbidden Black rice was much more satisfying in some ways. I did give it a quick rinse before cooking, though that didn’t appear necessary from the appearance of the water I poured off. I cooked this in my microwave rice cooker, rather than on the stovetop, using the cooking time suggested for brown rice. It cooked up well and had a wonderful aroma when I opened the pot! Lightly fragrant, almost floral. An elusive scent that dissipated quickly. The rice had a nice clean flavor, and the grains glistened almost purple with the ambient moisture clinging to them. In fact, the small amount of liquid I found at the bottom of the pot was purple. It was a flavorful, dramatic rice. I can see why Nancy chose to use black rice to make her salad. You could mix this with almost anything and have an eye-catching as well as tasty dish. Bright vegetables, such as carrots, peas, or an assortment of brightly colored bell peppers (red, green, yellow, orange) would make a show-stopping rice and veg medley. Like the Bhutan Red, the grains of the Forbidden rice were not sticky and did not clump like white or brown rice does.

Lovely! Forbidden Rice

Lovely! Forbidden Rice

Be aware, however, that both the Bhutan Red and Forbidden Black rice from Lotus Foods comes in a small package: I cooked up one cup from each package and it looks like I have less than a cup left in each bag. It’s probably not economical (I don’t recall what it costs since I bought it last fall) nor eco-friendly (imported from Bhutan and China) to regularly use Red Heirloom Rice from Bhutan, or Forbidden Black rice, but rather buy it only as a novelty for a special meal and dress it up with seasonings and veggies. Be on the lookout for other Lotus brand rices (they have several varieties) as well as more local sources of heirloom rice varieties, especially the black rice. Heirloom rices do not have to be grown on the other side of the world; some heirloom varieties are grown in the U.S.

If you’re a gardener and want to experiment with growing your own heirloom rice, I noticed that Baker Creek Seeds offers two heirloom rice varieties: A Mayan variety called “Blue Bonnet” and a golden variety called “Carolina Gold”. 🙂


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